Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Asia
Nowhere is the tension between North and South Korea more palpable than in the no-man's-land known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. As a divided nation, only 2.5 miles (4 km) separate the North from the South at what is the most heavily armed border on earth. The 150-mile (241-km) zone has served as a buffer since the 1953 cease-fire agreement between the United Nations and North Korea that put the Korean War on hold.
Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and certainly one of India’s most famous landmarks, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to the grandiose and the romantic. Lovingly built from white marble by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, the structure is decorated with carvings of flowers and inlays of precious stone arranged into intricate patterns that can be admired both from its impressive exterior and interior. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see for every traveler to northern India.
Bangkok’s glittering Grand Palace is one of the most popular attractions in the Thai capital. Built in 1782, this sprawling 54-acre (21.8-hectare) complex served as the royal court and administrative seat of Thailand for 150 years. Today, while it continues to host royal Thai functions, the palace also impresses swathes of visitors with its intricate golden-spired architecture and cultural history.
From the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea, the jungle-shrouded limestone cliffs of Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands rise majestically, giving way to white-sand beaches and lush green jungles further inland. Longtail boats putter between the islands, collectively known as Koh Phi Phi or Ko Phi Phi, surrounded by turquoise waters and colorful marine life.
Every great city has a river, and Bangkok’s is the Chao Phraya (Mae Nam Chao Phraya). Alive with traditional long-tail boats, passenger ferries, and cargo boats, the Chao Phraya River is the lifeblood of the city. It winds past both ancient temples and modern high-rises, offering a unique, local perspective on the Thai capital.
One of Kyoto’s most sacred temples and among the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is dedicated to Inari, the God of rice. The shrine’s five magnificent temples lie at the foot of the Inari mountain, and thousands of red torii gates (the Senbon torii) mark the forested trails to the top.
With its gleaming gold tiers reflected in the lake below and a backdrop of forests and twisted pines, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) is an enchanting sight. Dating back to the 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions and among Japan’s most visited temples.
A Singapore landmark, Merlion Park is named for its centerpiece, the Merlion statue, which spouts water into Marina Bay. With the head of a lion and the body of a fish, the Merlion is the national icon of Singapore. The park is also popular with locals, who come here to play and relax along the waterfront.
The Mutianyu Great Wall was fully restored in the 1980s as an alternative to the increasingly popular Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. The Mutianyu section is farther away from Beijing (about an hour and a half by car) than more popular sections, but it's also significantly less busy and features some fun, modern amusements, such as a cable car, chairlift, and toboggan. The long, flat segment—the longest fully restored section open to travelers—winds along heavily forested hilltops with 23 ancient watchtowers dotting the landscape.
Palace of Wind (Hawa Mahal) is easily one of Jaipur’s most iconic attractions. This stunning red and pink sandstone structure in the heart of the Pink City features rows of carved screens and more than 900 lattice-worked windows that allow in just the right amount of breeze to keep the 5-story complex cool.
More Things to Do in Asia
All the major world cities seem to have a big wheel these days, and Singapore is no exception. Lifting you 540 feet (165 meters) into the air, the Singapore Flyer is Asia’s largest observation wheel, providing amazing panoramic views of the city, the sea, and the surrounds from one of 28 capsules.
Easily one of Bangkok’s most visually striking landmarks, the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun) towers over the Chao Phraya River. Its colorfully decorated spires are the star features—the temple’s central prang stands 260 feet (79 meters) tall and is intricately decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain.
Busan’s proximity to the sea is one of its charms, and Haeundae Beach is perhaps the most famous beach in South Korea. Nearly a mile long (1.5 kilometers), this stretch of coastline is lined with some of Busan’s top international hotels, as well as an assortment of restaurants, shops, and the Sea Life Busan Aquarium.
With limestone rock formations jutting out of the emerald green sea, Phang Nga Bay (Ao Phang Nga) in Thailand is famous the world over for its natural beauty. Many visitors to Thailand will find themselves crossing the bay on the way to popular tourist spots, such as Phuket or Krabi, but this place deserves some dedicated exploration time of its own.
Head to the top of Namsan Tower (N Seoul Tower) in hilly Namsan Park, the largest in Seoul, for some of the best panoramic views over the South Korean capital. The 777-foot (237-meter) tower offers three observation decks and half a dozen restaurants where you can soak in the views, day or night.
One of the oldest, largest, and most revered temple complexes in Bangkok, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) is a must-see for all visitors to the Thai capital. The central attraction of the temple complex is its namesake statue—the gold leaf covered reclining Buddha—but don't let it distract you from the site's other treasures, including its 95 pagodas, carved narrative panels, and opulent main altar.
On the banks of Lake Pichola, Udaipur City Palace showcases centuries of traditional architecture, starting from when the foundations were laid in the middle of the 16th century. Successive rulers added on to the original, resulting in what today is an enormous complex with 11 palaces connected by mazelike passageways.
Built by the Viet Cong in the 1940s as protection from French air raids during the Indochina conflict, the Cu Chi Tunnels extend underground for more than 155 miles (250 km) in the vicinity of Ho Chi Minh City alone. This network of subterranean passageways later provided vital access to and strategic control over the rural areas surrounding the city during the Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War or the American War), when the tunnels housed living quarters, hospitals, booby traps, and storage facilities for the Viet Cong.
Lantau Island’s Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha) is a huge bronze seated Buddha at 112 feet (34 meters) tall. The statue is a popular pilgrimage site for travelers from Asia and around the globe who climb the 268 steps leading to its base for panoramic views of the South China Sea.
Created in 1362, centuries before Udaipur was established, the freshwater Lake Pichola is surrounded by beautiful old palaces, temples, and homes, many dating back hundreds of years. The whitewashed Lake Palace that is situated on an island in the north part of the lake is now a hotel run by the luxury Taj Group.
In stark contrast to its famed northerly neighbor, tiny and sleepy Koh Tan tempts visitors with empty beaches and vehicle-less roads just three miles and a 15-minute boat ride south of Koh Samui’s southern tip. Koh Tan (also spelled Koh Taen, Ko Taen, and Ko Tan) is sometimes also called Coral Island for its diversity of colorful hard and soft corals, and it often serves as a popular day-long escape for snorkel or kayak excursions through its clear inshore waters. Though the island doesn’t have quite the aquatic diversity of other more remote locations, it still affords excellent snorkeling, relatively empty beaches and navigable mangrove swamps all very close to a major tourist hub. Longboats make the crossing daily and usually stop at several unique coral spots around the island.
On land, Koh Tan spans only three square miles, and its population barely tops 30 people; their rustic lifestyle with limited electricity affords a glimpse of what much of Thai Island-living was like decades ago. Koh Tan also has a thriving population of monitor lizards, a boardwalk through a mangrove forest, a quaint local temple, a handful of local restaurants and a cluster of bungalow-style accommodations.
The Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace), was originally constructed in the late 19th century as a reception hall for foreign dignitaries. Today, this part of Jaipur’s City Palace houses the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which showcases royal family artifacts including weaponry and regal garments.
Dating back to 1726, the Jantar Mantar is an observatory with 19 fixed astronomical instruments. The tools in this UNESCO World Heritage site can be used for everything from tracking astronomical movements to predicting eclipses. It's one of five such north Indian observatories, all of which were built by Jai Singh II.
With more than 100 shops, stalls, and vendors selling everything from fresh-off-the-boat fish and seafood to tasty sweets and sushi takeaway, Nishiki Food Market is a wonderland of culinary delights. It's no surprise then that Kyoto’s biggest and most popular food market is a local institution and a popular attraction for traveling foodies.